College Guide


July 18, 2013 1:10 PM San Jose State Finds Problems in its Online Course Offerings

By Daniel Luzer

Earlier this year San Jose State University, with great fanfare, announced its partnership with Silicon Valley start-up Udacity, which builds massive open online courses (MOOCs), to create a program called San Jose State Plus.

SJSP was supposed to,

harness principles of massive open online courses (MOOCs) and apply them to three courses in mathematics that are so-called ‘bottlenecks’ for students seeking degrees at San Jose—a remedial algebra course, a college-level algebra course and introductory statistics.
Citing long waiting lists and high failure rates in remedial courses, Gov. [Jerry] Brown pushed aggressively for the program noting at a launch event that the state’s public higher education systems must find a way to help people succeed and to buoy its aging workforce.

It was an interesting idea. “This may be not the [whole] solution but a key part of the solution,” the governor apparently said.

Actually, it maybe it isn’t. According to an article by Ry Rivard at Inside Higher Ed:

After six months of high-profile experimentation, San Jose State University plans to “pause” its work with Udacity, a company that promises to deliver low-cost, high-quality online education to the masses.
Preliminary findings from the spring semester suggest students in the online Udacity courses, which were developed jointly with San Jose State faculty, do not fare as well as students who attended normal classes….

San Jose State plans to release the completion numbers to the public in the next few weeks. The school cautioned that it was too soon to reach any conclusions about the effectiveness of MOOCs in general; the students taking the Udacity courses were, San Jose State explained, very different from those taking real courses at the college.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer


  • Crissa on July 18, 2013 6:53 PM:

    Who would expect them to be the same? The students taking them aren't the same, either.

  • Walker on July 19, 2013 2:20 PM:

    Interestingly enough, the article does say this:

    "While the Udacity deal is being examined, San Jose State’s partnership with edX is going well, Junn said. Unlike the Udacity partnership, which is designed to replace the classroom experience, San Jose State is using edX material only to supplement the classroom experience."

    This gives evidence to something I have believed for a while: MOOCs are not a threat to the University, but they are a threat to the textbook market.

  • ceilidth on July 22, 2013 2:01 PM:

    Why are these bottleneck courses? They are bottlenecks because they are subjects that a lot of people find difficult to master without a lot of individual help and guided and supervised practice. They aren't going to get that on the cheap.